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Renovating Your Old Lawn

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Most lawns if properly cared for will have a long and healthy life. But sometimes older lawns will start to show some wear and tear for people, pets, weeds, foreign grasses, and the elements. Lawn renovation is the process of repairing your lawn from simple repairs such as dead spots, to more complex problems that may require replanting. These are some of the most common signs that your lawn may need renovation:
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  • Eliminate patches
  • Less weeds
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  1. Bare spots appear that don't grow back.
  2. Invading grasses from neighbor's lawns have overgrown your lawn.
  3. Weeds may be to populated and difficult to control.
  4. High traffic areas are heavily warn and don't to grow back.
  5. Pets Urine and other stuff have created dead-looking areas.
  6. Your lawn is just plain old and looks that way
  7. You just purchased an old house where the former neighbors did little to to care of the lawn.
Renovating Your Lawn

There are five basic types of renovation that you can use to help repair and/or replace your lawn: Aerating, Dethatching, Dead-Spot Replacement, Leveling Bumps and Depressions, and Total Renovation. The amount of renovation you require will depend on your needs. Below is a description of each, and what you need to do to make your renovation successful.

Aerating



The need for aerating a lawn generally stems from soil compaction from heavy use such as foot traffic, automobiles, etc.. Typically, the more clay you have in your soil, the more susceptible your lawn is to compacting. If you are having trouble growing your lawn in high traffic areas where people often play/walk, etc., then you may need to simply aerate your lawn once or twice a year. Click here for all you need to know about aerating.

Dethatching



Dethatching is the process of removing thatch from your lawn. Thatch is a layer of grass stems, roots, clippings, and debris that settle on the ground and either slowly decompose and/or accumulate over time. Thatch buildup is commonly found in lawns where grass has grown tall, mulch is frequently left, and lawns that have never been aerated. If your lawn seems unusually slow in responding to waterings, fertilizing, and reseeding, then dethatching may be needed. Thatch is most common in warm-season and with creeping grasses such as Bermuda, Zoyia, Bent grass, and Kentucky Bluegrass. If you have these grasses, you will usually have to dethatch more often than with other grasses. Click here for all you need to know about Dethatching.

Dead-Spot Replacement



If your lawn has a few dead spots that don't seem to respond to watering, mowing, etc. any more, then it may be time to replace them. Most spots are caused by simple wear and tear for people, pets, cars, etc.. However, in some cases it could be the cause of a pest or a lawn disease. The first step in answering this question is to simply put two and two together. If the spots are where your kids play, you accidentally spilled fertilizer, people walk, your pet urinates, or cars pass over, then your answer is pretty clear. However, if spots seem to appear for no logical reason, then you could have a problem with pests or diseases. Click here for more on identifying and dealing with lawn pests and diseases.

Once you decide that the spots need to go, your next step is to simply replace them by either replanting with seeds, or patching with sod. To do this, here are a few steps to follow:
  1. Dig-up and remove the bad spot. Take a shovel and remove all of the bad grass and at least 2-4 inches of the soil.
  2. Prepare the soil. Add in humus (organic materials) to help had nutrients to your soil. Mix it together with the existing soil and place into the hole. Click here for more on your soil and how to prepare it. If you are planning on reseeding the spot, then make sure the soil is level with the ground. If you are patching with a piece of sod, make sure the hole is lowered to the level of the sod soil you will add (usually 1-2 inches lower than ground level).
  3. Plant your new grass with seeds. If you are reseeding the spot, simply rake in the grass seeds with a little starter fertilizer, and cover with a small layer of material such as peat moss or saw dust to help protect the new seeds and retain moisture. Click here for more on planting with seeds.
  4. Planting your new grass with sod. By patching your spot with sod, you are effectively replacing the bad spot with a new and fully-grown grass the day to plant. Simply buy a piece of sod that is a little bigger the the spot, and cut it down to size. Before placing in the recessed soil, you may want to add a little starter fertilizer to the hole (under the sod) before you begin. If any gaps remain around the edges of the sod, simply fill them in with potting soil to prevent them from drying out. Click here for more on planting with sod.
  5. Caring for the planted spot. Now that your spot is repaired, you need to make sure it gets plenty of water until established. Water the spot as you would a new lawn. Click here for more on watering and fertilizing your seeded spot. If you reseed the spot, place a little string or wire around the spot to protect it from any traffic until it has successfully grown.

Leveling Bumps and Depressions



If your lawn has a few bumps or depressions that seem to take away from the beauty of your lawn, then may want to level them out. Most bumps are caused by poor planting and grading, poor settling, and/or wood that has decomposed below the lawn surface. However, if you have a new lawn and the bumps are everywhere, then you may need to have it rolled to better even it out. Click here for a location to rent lawn rollers or service who can roll you lawn for you!
  • Leveling Bumps: To level bumps, simply take a shovel and dig around three sides of the bump about 3-5 inches deep. Roll back the turf, and remove any excess soil below the top-soil. Once enough soil has been removed to level the area with the lawn, simply roll-back the turf and fill-in any seams with excess soil and/or potting soil. Water the area thoroughly, and press the turf back into place. Continue to repeat the waterings until the area has fully-recovered from the work.
  • Leveling Depressions: To level depressions, simply take a shovel and dig around three sides of the depression about 3-5 inches deep. Roll back the turf, and add a mixture of soil, humus, and fertilizer necessary to raise the level of the depression. Once enough soil has been added to level the area with the lawn, simply roll-back the turf and fill-in any seams with excess soil and/or potting soil. Water the area thoroughly, and press the turf back into place. Continue to repeat the waterings until the area has fully-recovered from the work.

Total Renovation



If your lawn is beyond minor repairs or is simply not what you want it to be, you may want to replace it. Total renovation is the process of killing-off any existing grass and weeds in your lawn and starting over. The following steps below will help you in renovating your lawn:
  1. Know when to renovate. Since total renovation involves replanting your grass, you should do so only when it is the best time to plant your new grass. Most warm-season grasses are planted in the late-spring and most cool-season grasses are planted in the early fall. So make sure you renovate your lawn when planting time is best! Click here to learn more about grasses and when to plant them.
  2. Kill your existing lawn and weeds. Since most people are starting over, it is a good idea to kill any grass and weeds so they don't cause more problems in your new lawn. If not, then why renovate anyway? The best way kill-off your lawn and weeds is through the use of a broad-spectrum herbicide such as Roundup or glyphosate. Simply find a non-windy day, mix your concentrated herbicide with water, and spray with a pump sprayer over your lawn. Make sure if you have any trees, plants, and flowers that they are not sprayed with the herbicide otherwise you may end up planting more then just grass when your done. Make sure to read the directions on the herbicide label. Depending on the application, you may want to repeat the spraying a few times over a few days to make sure you have killed everything. Most herbicides will take a few weeks to fully work so make sure you plan accordingly.
  3. Aerate, Dethatch, and remove the old grass and weeds. Now that your grass and weeds are dead, it's time to remove them and start over. First you will need to dethatch your lawn to loosen-up the soil, and remove the old grass and weeds. Click here for more on dethatching. Next you will need to aerate the soil to help loosen it up and better prepare it for planting and watering. Click here for more on aerating. Finally, you will need to rake away all the excess grass, weeds, plugs, and debris that is on the lawn surface. Once completed, smooth-out the surface with rake and remove and chunks, rocks, or excess debris that remain.
  4. Planting your new lawn: Now that your soil is ready, it is time apply your seeds/sod, fertilizer, and plant your new lawn.
  5. Caring for your new lawn: Now that you have completed your planting, it is time to make sure that your new lawn is watered and cared for properly to insure its new growth.


About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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